Firefox OS : Keon Developer Preview Device : Some Feedback

Firefox OS is something that I truly believe in. The extent to which we could possibly have a Web OS is going to be interesting to see and for a majority of applications, I believe the line between native and mobile web applications is too fine to go either way.

Towards this, I have been writing a series of tutorials on Firefox OS and I kind of hit some limits in trying out newer things within the Simulator. The Simulator at the end of the day is not a real device and hence some device specific APIs are not going to work in it.

I was delighted to hear about the next round of “Calling All Porters“, where you share an existing live web application with Mozilla and if they approve it, they will send you a Developer Preview device for helping you port your application and to keep the device with you moving forward. I submitted my proposal within the day and was happy to learn that it was approved. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I had the Keon Device with me. Before I go forward, a big Thank You to Mozilla for sending this across. It will really help me write more tutorials that cover more of the Device specific APIs and to keep myself updated with the latest releases, as they roll out.

I knew that this was a Developer Preview and should not be considered to be a real phone but I was determined to use it as a primary phone. The reason I want to do that is to see and understand if the OS and Device will help me in my pattern of daily phone usage. This is important if I am asked to give real feedback. If I am just told to use this as a Developer device for testing, I am sure it will work out and it does indeed. But by using it as a primary phone, I might unknowingly discover pleasant or unpleasant things and it could be useful in providing feedback. So here it goes.

Unpacking and Setup

I loved the conservative and simple packing of the Keon device. Setup was easy – nothing special about it. It was very thoughtful of Mozilla to send across a 4GB microSD card also since several applications on the FirefoxOS like Camera, Music player, etc work with that.

One little point for Mozilla to take note. The Orange color rocks but given that Microsoft Lumia phones and Asha phones are coming with several bright colors, I have seen people remarking if I have a Windows phone. You might face a brand identity problem in several geographics – that’s my feedback there for you.

Operator Signal Goes away after each call

This was a serious problem, which made me finally stop using the phone. The Signal Strength for the Operator (Vodafone in my case) become zero (no bars) after each and every call. I make a call or receive a call and once I hang up, boom .. the signal bars have gone and the Phone goes into Emergency mode.

In the beginning, I was confused and years of using Microsoft Windows has ingrained in me that if normal attempts don’t cut it – reboot the device. On doing that, the bars used to come back and I kept doing that a few times.

However, soon I discovered a routine that seemed to work every single time. Once the call is completed, the signal bars used to go away. Then all I needed to do was go to Settings and then tap on Call Settings. Just by doing that, I was able to get all the bars back. I don’t know what part of the phone hardware gets woken up or is reset, when I go into that Settings -> Call Settings, but that is direct feedback for the Phone and OS team.

However, it was not possible to remember to go back into Call Settings all the time and a few times, I was unreachable and that presented problems. I finally had to call it off.

Touch Screen Usage

I sweat a bit more (a lot more) than others. And boy when the screen was a bit dusty, the touch just did not respond. I faced several situations where there was an incoming call and the buttons to accept the call. All I had to do was click but the touch click just wouldn’t register itself. No amount of frantic hitting the screen seemed to do the trick too. On a few occasions, I ended up rebooting the phone and giving it a nice clean shine to get it into a state of normal touch usage.

Screen Flicker

I noticed that the screen used to flicker or almost contrast from very light to a clearer shade every once in a while while using the phone or unlocking it, etc. It was definitely not one of the smoothest and at times even jerking, almost like a bad television signal. Did see a few sort of distortion signals too. I kind of reasoned out that the Auto-Brightness here was playing some games. Something did not seem right with its clock. Hence I moved it from an Auto-mode to a fixed setting. And the problem did go away.

General Usage

I was quite happy with the general usage. I am not a heavy Internet user on the phone. I found the phone, SMS and Email apps pretty ok to use. I would love to have threaded conversations shown in the email (maybe it is possible to have that view style via a setting), but I don’t know how). Once I turned the word prediction on, I found it quite good while sending SMS. I think a better email client is something that I would definitely love on this phone.

I believe Adaptive App Search is fantastic and would appeal to a different segment of users, given the kind of App discoverability problem that we are seeing in iTunes and Play stores. For people who do not have the time to evaluate applications, the applications that come up in each segment (Social, Sports, etc) are good enough to meet your daily dose of information. And if any specific app does interest you, just add it to phone screen – almost like a bookmarking concept.

Developer Testing

This phone is exactly what it is – a developer preview. And towards that, I have no complaints. I plugged it in, the drivers got installed in a jiffy and the Device Connected message came up in the OS Simulator. The Firefox OS Developer Tools still rank the quickest that I have seen to getting things up and running.

My final experiment ended about 3 days after switching to it. I had to go back to my old and tired Android phone (2+ years) with its hardware buttons almost begging me to let them go.

I hope my review is useful to the FFOS team. At the end of the day, in FirefoxOS – I still trust.

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